Discussions are underway on how to address encroachments near Lake Anne within the Mystic Meadows neighborhood subdivision in Farmington.
A few residents have installed docks, fire pits and retaining walls on private property near the water line that may soon become city property.
The Farmington City Council discussed how to proceed during a lengthy Feb. 11 work session. The council reconvened to talk with city attorneys Monday, March 11.
"The development went belly up during the recession and they never got deeded over, and we had made several attempts to contact various people who controlled those out lots and were unsuccessful," City Planning Manager Tony Wippler said about the encroachment situation at the Feb. 11 work session.
Since that time, encroachments of varying degrees have taken place around Lake Anne, the largest pond in the subdivision. The out lots surrounding Lake Anne were designed for storm water ponding purposes.
The nine out lots were anticipated to be deeded to the city upon project completion, but due to the economic instability of that time, the out lots are now in the tax forfeiture process. Prior to the out lots being in tax forfeiture, varying levels of encroachments were occurring on the out lots.
The city had little recourse to correct the encroachments since it was taking place on private property. The city reports that during the time the out lots have been in the tax forfeiture process, the number of property owners that have encroached, again at varying levels, has continued to increase.
Through the tax forfeiture process, the city was able to put a six-month administrative hold on these out lots for possible acquisition. The administrative hold expires April 3, 2019.
Ways for acquisition
City Council can decide to acquire the out lots in one of three ways.
The city could acquire the land via conditional use deed. This is a restrictive covenant placed on the deed for 30 years. The city has authorized the acquisition as a public purpose and would use it for that purpose, and otherwise it can be returned back to the state, Wippler said.
A second way to proceed with the acquisition would be a conservation purchase.
"This is specific to the creation or preservation of wetlands from our ponds, or our facilities for the preservation of land in its natural state," Wippler said.
The out lot properties can be purchased for less than market value.
A third choice to acquire the out lots calls for the city to make an outright purchase without any restrictions on the deeds.
City leaders discuss encroachments
There are two areas of significance regarding encroachments within the city of Farmington.
The first area of encroachment is a gas line easement that runs through the Nelson Hills Farm neighborhood in the northwest part of the city. The second encroachment is the out lot that encompasses a 25-acre storm water pond known as Lake Anne.
"This issue is not going to go away and this is going to continue to happen unless we potentially acquire it and do something about it," Wippler said. "And up until this point the city did not have any recourse."
Farmington Mayor Todd Larson asked if the conditional use deed was renewable after 30 years. Wippler said he was not 100 percent certain.
Larson asked when the developer put that neighborhood and houses together, are there any funds left and Wippler said it went away with the bankruptcy.
Farmington Community Development Director Adam Kienberger said anyone associated with the developments is null and void and the city attempted to track down information a couple times.
The out lots now in tax forfeiture are owned by the state and administered by Dakota County.
"Depending on what direction we go, this is a very layered topic," Kienberger said.
Gehler reminded the council members that from her understanding, the homes in the Mystic Meadows neighborhood were marketed as a development with lakefront property.
The council reviewed the homes in this neighborhood where a few showed to have invested in docks, retaining walls, fire pits and other landscape exterior amenities near the pond on Lake Anne.
The area near Lake Anne has some issues with willow trees and overgrowth near the shoreline.
Some residents are moving the shoreline that is meant to be native and intended to help with the water quality filtering.
"We can ask the residents to stop mowing to allow the grassy shoreline to be native," Gehler said.
As part of the city inventory that took into account the scope and scale of the property at Mystic Meadows, some homeowners planted trees on city parkland in natural areas and some did not map out property lines when installing fence lines.
Levels of encroachment
Last summer the city conducted an inventory process to categorize five areas of encroachment on a map.
Tier 1 show there was significant work done and investment to the property. Some homeowners own pontoon boats near Lake Anne. Some residents have developed the shoreline that extends off their backyard property that is private property.
Tier 2 is where there is not as much extensive work to the property that would require correction to the encroachment, Gehler explained.
"This is something the homeowner could do on their own, by bringing in black dirt to re-establish that shoreline and this would be relatively easy," Gehler said.
Some homeowners may need to remove a dock or boat to restore the shoreline back to its original state.
"We don't see a lot of issues with the trees - the trees that exist in this area we do not have to mow around them and they are not in our way, and some may argue they enhance the area and residents maintain them," Gehler said.
The city of Farmington will be updating its tree ordinance policy to discuss if trees are planted on the city property who is responsible for taking care or replacing the trees.
Kienberger explained the challenge will be whether the encroachment is viewed through a legal perspective. The questions that will be discussed on where does that line end and this can become fuzzy pretty quick.
"We want to get a handle of what this challenge looks like community-wide, and not just a single area of Farmington," Kienberger said.
City Council member Joshua Hoyt said it is the responsibility of the homeowner to do research and look at the property plat before they make upgrades on their property and inquire if they need a city permit.
One option would be for the city to acquire the lots and complete the encroachment on a case-by-case basis for maintenance needs such as trail maintenance or other maintenance.
Kienberger offered what he said was a slightly more creative option. The city could acquire the out lots and subdivide the areas to the property owners.
"We could slice and dice and assign excess property and ratify the work being done and sell those pieces of property to existing homeowners," Kienberger said.
The city would still maintain the pond itself and would maintain it for drainage and utility easement.
Staff will put together plans with action items, costs and fees associated for the council to review with the out lot acquisition since the administrative hold expires in early April.
"There is no perfect solution here," Kienberger said.